Miss Taylor wrote rapidly. “And cotton?” she asked.
“We raise considerable cotton, but not nearly what we ought to; nigger labor is too worthless.”
“Oh! The Negroes are not, then, very efficient?”
“Efficient!” snorted Mr. Caldwell; at last she had broached a phase of the problem upon which he could dilate with fervor. “They’re the lowest-down, ornriest—begging your pardon—good-for-nothing loafers you ever heard of. Why, we just have to carry them and care for them like children. Look yonder,” he pointed across the square to the court-house. It was an old square brick-and-stucco building, sombre and stilted and very dirty. Out of it filed a stream of men—some black and shackled; some white and swaggering and liberal with tobacco-juice; some white and shaven and stiff. “Court’s just out,” pursued Mr. Caldwell, “and them niggers have just been sent to the gang—young ones, too; educated but good for nothing. They’re all that way.”
Miss Taylor looked up a little puzzled, and became aware of a battery of eyes and ears. Everybody seemed craning and listening, and she felt a sudden embarrassment and a sense of half-veiled hostility in the air. With one or two further perfunctory questions, and a hasty expression of thanks, she escaped into the air.
The whole square seemed loafing and lolling—the white world perched on stoops and chairs, in doorways and windows; the black world filtering down from doorways to side-walk and curb. The hot, dusty quadrangle stretched in dreary deadness toward the temple of the town, as if doing obeisance to the court-house. Down the courthouse steps the sheriff, with Winchester on shoulder, was bringing the last prisoner—a curly-headed boy with golden face and big brown frightened eyes.
“It’s one of Dunn’s boys,” said Bles. “He’s drunk again, and they say he’s been stealing. I expect he was hungry.” And they wheeled out of the square.
Miss Taylor was tired, and the hastily scribbled letter which she dropped into the post in passing was not as clearly expressed as she could wish.
A great-voiced giant, brown and bearded, drove past them, roaring a hymn. He greeted Bles with a comprehensive wave of the hand.
“I guess Tylor has been paid off,” said Bles, but Miss Taylor was too disgusted to answer. Further on they overtook a tall young yellow boy walking awkwardly beside a handsome, bold-faced girl. Two white men came riding by. One leered at the girl, and she laughed back, while the yellow boy strode sullenly ahead. As the two white riders approached the buggy one said to the other:
“Who’s that nigger with?”
“One of them nigger teachers.”
“Well, they’ll stop this damn riding around or they’ll hear something,” and they rode slowly by.
Miss Taylor felt rather than heard their words, and she was uncomfortable. The sun fell fast; the long shadows of the swamp swept soft coolness on the red road. Then afar in front a curled cloud of white dust arose and out of it came the sound of galloping horses.